The UCSF/UC Hastings Consortium on Law, Science and Health Policy is a dynamic collaboration designed to serve tomorrow’s interdisciplinary professionals

 

Photo of Dan Dohan, Sarah Hooper, Jaime S. King, Gregory Cochran, Jessaca Machado

Part of the Consortium team, from left: Dan Dohan, Sarah Hooper, Jaime S. King, Gregory Cochran, Jessaca Machado

In 2009, the United States was embroiled in a national effort to reform healthcare sparked by President Obama’s campaign to pass the Affordable Care Act. For months on end, news reports and public debates were dominated by passionate advocates trying to overhaul patient care. In this hot climate of health policy discussion, UC Hastings and UCSF launched a joint venture to facilitate and foster interdisciplinary collaboration in healthcare.

Under the leadership of Acting Chancellor and Dean David L. Faigman, the UCSF/UC Hastings Consortium on Law, Science & Health Policy brought professionals from law and medicine to work together on research, training and community outreach.

During the past seven years, much has changed with the passage of the Affordable Care Act, and millions more Americans are now covered by health insurance. But there are still huge inefficiencies in the healthcare system, which is one reason the work of the Consortium is so critical.

“Healthcare consumes 17 percent of our gross domestic product each year,” said the Consortium’s Executive Director, Sarah Hooper. “The costs cause real social trade-offs, taking more money out of employees’ paychecks and moving other programs aside. Other countries pay much less and have better outcomes, so it’s urgent that we bring lawyers and doctors together to address these pressing health policy issues.”

At first, many were skeptical. Too often, the relationship between lawyers and doctors is defined by the friction and animosity associated with medical malpractice lawsuits. However, as Associate Dean of UC Hastings and Co-Director of the Consortium Professor Jaime S. King noted, “There was a core group of us at UC Hastings—including Professor Marsha Cohen, Emerita Professor Shauna Marshall and David Faigman—who recognized from the very beginning that a consortium with UCSF would have incredible potential to benefit both the public and our students.”

 

It’s urgent that we bring lawyers and doctors together to address these pressing health policy issues.

—Sarah Hooper, Consortium Executive Director

Hooper explained that the Consortium aims to close the gaps between the two fields and work for a common purpose. “We look at how the tools of medicine, law and science can be marshaled to improve the lives of patients,” she said. “We are all serving the same public, but there is a huge communication gap between the healthcare system and patients, and the healthcare system and law, and even between different disciplines within the system. We’re about bringing everyone to the table to bridge these disconnects.”

Underlying the Consortium’s mission is the philosophy that, in order to become more effective practitioners, lawyers and healthcare professionals cannot work in silos. “The best way to advance both law and science is through collaboration,” said Faigman, a renowned legal scholar who specializes in the convergence of law and science. “You need lawyers who speak the language of the health sciences and scientists who speak the language of the law. They must be able to understand one another’s professional landscape, as well as metrics for successful outcomes.” In this model, the pathway to improved practice lies in strong interdisciplinary education, an approach that UC Hastings has long espoused.

Faigman said that UCSF was a natural partner. “Both schools have strong reputations,” he explained. “UCSF is the world leader as a health university, and we’re a renowned law school. If this were a romantic comedy with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, people would wonder why it took 140 years to get together.”

The two schools have an agreement that links UC Hastings to all four schools at UCSF—Medicine, Nursing, Dentistry and Pharmacy—as well as the Graduate Division, the Medical Center and all UCSF research institutes. The Consortium receives state funding from both schools and donations from public and private foundations.

Today, the Consortium is jointly directed by King and Dan Dohan, deputy director of the Philip R. Lee Institute for Health Policy Studies at UCSF. King has a J.D. and a Ph.D. in health policy, and Dohan has a Ph.D. in sociology, which he has used to study the inner workings of the healthcare system. “We are lucky to have great partners at UCSF,” King said. “Dan and I share a clear vision for the Consortium, and we have complementary skill sets that allow us to work toward that vision in an efficient manner. We are dedicated to having the Consortium serve both our learners—students, alumni, research fellows and faculty—and the public through its many endeavors and events.”

The Consortium provides services for hundreds of students and trainees annually, promoting cross-fertilization in three main areas: education, research, and clinical training and service. Throughout the year, students can take courses, seminars and clinics; complete externships; and take advantage of events, career resources and research opportunities in health policy.

“We aim for the Consortium to feel like a home for students during their time in law school and for it to be a resource that they can use throughout their careers,” King said.

Where HPL Fits In

The Consortium recently added a new degree program to its catalogue, a Master of Science in Health Policy and Law (HPL). This degree is designed to equip students with a vocabulary and framework for understanding the nexus of law, healthcare and policy. The one- to two-year interdisciplinary degree program is offered online, and has been carefully tailored for working professionals in a wide range of occupations, including lawyers, medical professionals, policy analysts, consultants, and anyone with an interest in the workings and impact of health law and policy. The coursework combines statistical analysis, health economics and finance, policy analysis and legal reform.

HPL graduates will exit the program with a firm grasp of how to analyze health policy and law through an interdisciplinary framework. Associate Director Gregory Cochran, both an experienced healthcare attorney and former emergency room doctor, will teach most of the law courses for the program.

Dohan explained that the degree program will train a cadre of “translators” who can communicate health data and evidence to lawmakers and others involved in policy. “We don’t want to scream and yell about how horrible things are,” he said. “We want to engage and acknowledge controversial issues. We want to help politicians understand how Americans experience their healthcare system so that they can support and fund effective programs.”

Cutting-Edge Research

All students are exposed to ongoing cutting-edge research at the Consortium, and many become research assistants on projects centering on aging, brain health, and healthcare pricing and competition. These topic areas—many of which can be used as Capstone Projects—derive from faculty interests, but also reflect current public policy concerns.

King’s research into the healthcare market has uncovered surprising insights into the lack of transparency in healthcare costs. The Consortium’s brain health research addresses issues in care that adults with dementia and Alzheimer’s encounter, and pioneers new territory in the legal status of individuals with neurodevelopmental disorders.

“These are some of the most pressing issues facing healthcare right now,” Hooper said. “We have an aging population that is unprecedented. Our healthcare, legal and social services are largely unprepared to deal with this demographic change, and individuals and their families aren’t prepared to navigate these systems. So we need to explore and develop different ways of cross-training healthcare providers, lawyers and others to better serve this population. At the same time, we have to figure out as a nation how to pay for healthcare in a way that enables us to maintain a healthy population and a healthy economy. Right now, we are doing neither.”

Other Consortium projects have taken on elder financial abuse, the regulation of skilled nursing facilities, veterans’ healthcare and genetic testing of newborns. A major focus in project selection has been serving the community.

“The great part about the Consortium is that as it continues to grow, we’re creating more and more opportunities for lawyers and healthcare providers to work together to solve the most urgent issues facing our healthcare system,” King said.

As a student in the Health Policy and Law degree, you are a member of the Consortium. Will you be joining us as the second incoming class? Check out how to apply!